While most Evangelical churches are thrilled when an individual goes from unbelief to belief. They embrace the Bible, they recognize they are a sinner and turn to Jesus Christ and are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Cults and false teachers likewise enjoy bringing new members into their groups, especially if they came from a church that would be considered biblically based. One of the biggest reasons we have seen for why folks leave what are generally Bible based churches is that the church leadership assumes too much. It is assumed, for example, that because someone grew up in the church or is a regular attender and participates in Bible study groups, they have signed on to the doctrinal statement that they actually understand and are able to defend the doctrines in the statement. When questions are raised by false teachers on the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, the physical resurrection or even the reliability of the Bible they are stumped and unbelief begins to creep in.
In some cases followers are more wrapped up in a particular teacher or group and when the teacher or group is shown to be false their rejection of the teacher equals rejection of God. MCOI spends a great deal of time “unwinding” folks that have left cults, New Religious Movements and in some cases, the Evangelical church. One of my discussions this week was with someone who recently left the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have been watching YouTube videos by our very own Snarky Apologist and 21 Cross Check 21. As we spoke it came out that in leaving the Watchtower they also had left God. They claimed to now be an atheist. We talked for a few minutes about that and they realized they really couldn’t be honest and an atheist but they could be an agnostic. So, we talked that through a bit to see if they were an ornery agnostic or an ordinary agnostic. An ornery agnostic woudl be defined as, “I don’t know if God exists and you don’t either so leave me alone.” The best we can do is have lunch and talk about the weather. We cannot argue someone into the faith. As we have pointed out in the past, faith is an act of the will not a function of information. After a few minutes the decision was that this newly out JW is an ordinary agnostic who doesn’t know if God exists but is sure the Bible is not reliable. I asked if I could mail a copy of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. At first they were hesitant thinking I just was trying to sell them a book but I let them know that it was a gift. I believe the Christian faith can stand up under scrutiny. They agreed to let me mail the book as well as send links to many of our Journal articles. I am not sure where this will go but it is the first step in helping them see that leaving the organization is not the same as leaving God and further, what the Watchtower teaches is actually diametrically opposed to what the Bible teaches. We will see where this goes.
On another front we have many that have left Gothardism (and other false teachers that operate freely within the church) who suffer the same departure from belief. For some it is instantaneous while for others it is slow. For them I have to start with something like this; “It is true that God and Gothard both begin with “Go” and end in “d” but that is where the similarity ends.” It is a difficult transition because they were so well schooled in the word of Gothard that they missed understanding the Word of God. As they are now testing the Christian faith they are reading books and listening to not only non-Christians but to many of the New Atheists. Not long ago I was contacted by a former Gothard follower that is drifting away from the faith. He has been reading books by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman seems to have credibility because he grew up in the church, attended Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College and eventually abandonded the faith. Ehrman now spends a great deal of time claiming the Bible is not reliable and is the darling of liberal media, especially around the time we celebrate the resurrection each year. Ehrman didn’t transition from belief to non-belief because of problems in the Bible though, but rather, by his own admission, because he could not find what he thought was a credible answer to the problem of evil.
As I have written back and forth with some of the former Gothardites they didn’t seem to be able to find credible answers to the issues Ehrman raises and as result are drifting to unbelief. After all, they and their families had been deeply deceived by Gothard b being discouraged from critical thinking and pressed into just believing. I let them know that we have answered many of the issues Ehrman raises in our article Interrupting Ehrman. After reading it several were surprised that there are credible answers to be found by just following the context of Scripture. Another issue was then raised by an article by skeptic Ferrell Till, When Did Paul Go to Jerusalem after His Conversion?
The contention is that there are contradictions between Acts 9:22 and Galatians 1:15 in the account of Paul’s conversion. First, it should be noted that it is difficult to build doctrine from historical narrative. Important details may be included while lesser details may not be included depending on what the writer was trying to emphasize. Contracting the time frame in order to convey what the writer considers more inportant highlights may happen. Differing or missing details are not necessarily contradictory details. For example in the Gospel accounts one writer mentioned one angel at the tomb while another mentioned 2. What this shows us is that one writer focused on the angel that spoke as important the other gave added but not contradictory detail for, as Dr. Norman Geisler points out, wherever there are 2 angels there is always 1. If the first writer had said there was only one angel then we would have a contradiction. The same is true of the varying accounts of the women going to the tomb (something we address in Interrupting Ehrman). This is a point that Till even notes in his article:
Inerrantists, of course, are going to quibble endlessly that there is no discrepancy in these two accounts. One of their favorite quibbles is that one can correctly report a travel itinerary without listing every single stopping place in the trip. If one should leave St. Louis, for example, go to Denver for a while, then on to Phoenix for a period, and finally to Los Angeles, he would not be incorrect if he later said, “I left St. Louis and went to Los Angeles.” This is similar to the commonly heard argument that there is no inconsistency in the resurrection narratives just because the different writers mentioned only some of the women who went to the tomb instead of all of them. Hence, they argue that Paul went from Damascus to Arabia, where he stayed for three years, and then went on to Jerusalem. Luke simply “chose” not to mention the trip into Arabia because it wasn’t relevant to the point he was trying to make.
This quibble about Paul’s itinerary is technically correct,…
So while Till acknowledges that there may be a valid and resaonable explanation he really doesn’t like this one. It is a possible explanation but I think there is a better one and contacted Dr. Norman Geisler who looked it over and responded:
A Response to Alleged Contradiction in Galatians 1:17
Galatians 1:17—Did Paul go to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles before he went to Arabia?
PROBLEM: In Galatians 1:17 Paul said, “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away at once to Arabia….” But Acts 9:26-27 declares that “When he [Paul] had come to Jerusalem…. Barnabas brought him to the apostles…. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.”
RESPONSE: To use Galatians 1:17 to contradict with Acts 9:26-27 is the fallacy of “taking a text out of context.” For the context clearly says Paul did not go to Jerusalem to “confer” (Gal. 1:16) with the apostles or anyone else about the nature of the gospel he was preaching. He got it directly from God (Gal. 1:12), and there is only one true Gospel (Gal. 1:8). So, the context of this text is that he did not go to the apostles in this early visit (Gal. 1:17) to confer about the nature of the Gospel which he preached. This was a private visit set up by Barnabas, not an official visit initiated by Paul or the church. The purpose of this visit was for them to get acquainted with Paul and his ministry, not for to have an official conference with them to settle a dispute about the gospel which they did on a later occasion (Acts 15). Thus, there is no contradiction here since the visit in Galatians 1 was not an official visit to determine the validity of the Gospel that Paul preached.
In support of this textual understanding, it should be noted that Paul and Luke (who wrote Acts) were closely associated (Col. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:11), and, hence, it is unreasonable to assume that they would blatantly contradict each other on this matter. Indeed, Luke who wrote later than Paul, was known to be an accurate historian without a demonstrable error (see Colin Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenic History, Eisenbrauns, 1990), even in minute details. Thus, there is good reason to believe that he did not make an error in this matter either.
What is more, neither the early nor later Christian church noted any contradiction between these two accounts. So, they too must have believed the accounts were harmonious. Indeed, it is unlikely that both books would have been placed in the Christian canon of Scripture with a blatant contradiction between them.
In brief, the only way one can make these texts contradict is to fail to take into consideration their context. But a text out of its context is a pretext. Hence, it is pretext to assume these texts are in contradiction to each other. As indicated by the above chart, the two visits to Jerusalem were clearly different. Ignoring these different contexts leads to the mistaken notion that they are contradictory. In context, when Paul said, “…nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away at once to Arabia…,” he clearly meant that he did not go to Jerusalem on this occasion to confirm the validity of the Gospel that he preached. That is, it was not an official visit whose purpose was to “confer” (Gk: prosanatithami) or “consult” (Gal. 1:16 ESV) with the apostles about the validity of his message. It was merely a private meeting for them to get acquainted with his testimony and ministry which was set up by Barnabas (Acts 9:27).
Copyright by Norman L. Geisler 2013
I appreciate Dr. Geisler’s response and it flows right from the context. The Christian faith is reasonable and there are credible answers to seeming contradictions. One of the biggest issues in the church today is the need to create a distance between the word of the false teacher and the Word of God. They are not the same and God is not afraid of questions and even encourages them.
“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)